- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

5:44 p.m.

President Bush today made a surprise trip to Baghdad to tell new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki face to face that “the future of this country is in your hands.”

“When Iraq succeeds in having a government of and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness, who don’t believe in liberty, who are willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective,” said Mr. Bush, traveling to Iraq less than a week after the U.S. military killed the al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Sneaking out of the Maryland retreat of Camp David by telling his senior staff last night that he was tired and heading to bed, the president and a handful of top aides flew overnight and, unlike his last secret visit to Iraq’s capital on Thanksgiving 2003, landed in broad daylight at 4 p.m. Baghdad time.

Seated next to Mr. al-Maliki for a video conference with U.S. military and administration officials gathered at Camp David, Mr. Bush said: “The decisions you and your Cabinet make will be determinate as to whether or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.”

Mr. Bush told the Iraqi leader, who on Thursday completed appointments to his new government, that he had come “not only to look you in the eye, I’ve also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it keeps its word.”

Mr. al-Maliki, who didn’t know Mr. Bush was coming until five minutes before they met, told the president that Iraq was “determined to succeed, and we have to defeat terrorists and defeat all the hardships.”

“God willing, all the suffering will be over. And all the soldiers will return to their country with our gratitude for what they have offered, the sacrifice,” Mr. al-Maliki said through a translator. “We are determined to succeed, and we have to defeat terrorism. Our country will stay united; it will stay strong.”

Mr. al-Maliki also expressed his country’s appreciation for U.S. efforts in Iraq, where nearly 2,500 members of the U.S. military have died. “I present our gratitude for those that have sacrificed themselves for the Iraqi people.”

Al Qaeda this week announced a new leader in Iraq. A wave of bombings hit the oil city of Kirkuk yesterday, killing 14 persons, as the terror organization sought to prove that Zarqawi’s death will not stop its campaign of violence.

But Mr. Bush said Iraq is beginning to take the fight to the insurgents and praised Mr. al-Maliki for completing appointments to his new government.

“You’ve assembled people from all parts of your country, representing the different religions and the different histories and traditions. And yet the Cabinet here represents the entire Iraqi people, and I appreciate your commitment to representing the people of Iraq. I’m impressed by the strength of your character and your desire to succeed. And I’m impressed by your strategy,” Mr. Bush said.

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